Tech Universe: Tuesday 09 July

By Miraz Jordan

Researchers are working on a way to make CGI skin look even more realistic. Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers are working on a way to make CGI skin look even more realistic. Photo / Thinkstock

INTO THE SKIN: Computer generated characters in movies have come a long way in recent years, looking more and more like real live people and creatures. But not quite, if you look really closely — the skin is often just too perfect. Researchers at the University of Southern California aim to create simulated CGI skin, faithful down to the level of individual cells. They developed a special lighting system and camera and took photos of real skin at a resolution of about 10 micrometres. That level of detail spreads one skin cell across 3 pixels. Then they created a 3D model of skin and applied an algorithm to simulate light reflecting and scattering off the surface. The result was highly realistic CGI skin complete with pores and tiny wrinkles. This CGI skin could obviously be used in movies, but the technique could also be used at make-up counters to show how different cosmetics would look. No-one at a make-up counter will want to see all their otherwise invisible pores and wrinkles.

TOP THAT: Not only does Mount Everest have cellphone service, it now has 4G service up to 5,200 metres above sea level. Huawei has been providing GSM coverage to the mountain since 2007 to help keep climbers safe, but now streaming video won't be a problem either. I guess battery life is now a big problem for climbers though.

CAR UNDER A HOT ROOF: Solar powered cars tend to be single-seaters, and rather compact at that. Stella is a low-slung family-sized solar car from the Solar Team Eindhoven. It's made of lightweight carbon and aluminium and can travel around 600 Km on a single charge. What's more the solar panels generate more energy than needed to drive the car. That's surplus that can be sent back into the power grid. The car has a somewhat aerodynamic shape and looks to be about a metre tall, with the roof covered in solar panels. Stella will participate in the World Solar Challenge in Australia this October.

LIGHT AND SOUND: Did you know that some diseases, such as malaria, can alter the shape of red blood cells? That means that if a doctor can assess the shape of blood cells they may be able to more quickly make a diagnosis. A photoacoustics scientist at Ryerson University in Toronto developed a laser that pulses every 760 nanoseconds. When a material absorbs light from a pulsing light source it produces sound waves. When the laser is directed at red blood cells they emit sound waves with frequencies of more than 100MHz and reveal the tiniest details about the shapes of the cells. The approach could accurately distinguish malaria from sickle cell anemia and requires as few as 21 red blood cells. The technique shaves hours off a standard blood test and could save lives when transfusions are needed. The downside though is the high cost of the equipment. Sadly that implies that the equipment will be least available where it's most useful.

NOW HEAR THIS: Millions of people around the world are affected by hearing loss. Hearing aids can help many, but are often quite expensive, and getting them correctly adjusted can be time consuming. Sound World Solutions has devised a low cost aid that works in conjunction with a smartphone and a Bluetooth connection. The low cost CS10 Personal Sound Amplifier fits in the ear, and looks like any Bluetooth headset, but can be adjusted manually or via a smartphone app. The device increases sound volume, but also helps make speech more intelligible and reduces ambient noise, thanks to its tunable settings. Tech seems to get cheaper every day.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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